Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn

Fall officially arrived this week and the weather has gone quickly from late summer pleasant to cold, damp and dreary. There is a frost warning for tonight, so I've pulled Ms. Figgy and the Meyer Lemon trees into the garage, along with a few potted basil plants. I am really dreading turning on the furnace.

My prior post on my Hairy Balls plant has generated some interesting key words hits, to say the least, so I thought you'd enjoy an update, because as you can see, my Hairy Balls are much bigger now.

Not sure how frost tolerant they are, I really should try rooting a cutting.

My Autumn Joy Sedums are at their peak of color.

I can see this beautiful orangish Dahlia from my office window. So pretty.

The cardoon is also pretty big now.

And finally, Cootie, the formally feral, now fabulously friendly kitty, took an opportunity for a few leg rubs while I shot the photos. Unfortunately a few minutes later, with my pockets full of pears, he got underfoot and I accidently stepped on him. So he is giving me the cold shoulder and rebuffing my attempts at an apologetic belly rub.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Edible Landscaping - Eton Collection

Here are some shots I snapped on my outing to Eton on Chagrin Blvd, home of Penzey's Spices, Trader Joe's, Sur la Table, and Barnes and Noble. It's always a delight to visit during gardening season to check out the fantastic displays created by Eagle Creek Gardens.

They change the displays up a bit each year, but I really like the way they incorporate beautiful edible plants into the borders and containers, like this beautiful Bright Lights Swiss Chard. They are also nice enough to leave markers with the plant names so you can recreate at home.

Here is the Swiss Chard edged with some waxy begonias.

This adorable bed is flanked by ornamental banana trees and edged with curly parsley.

Ornamental chili peppers were featured in several colorful planters.

Bold and beautiful cardoon, a thistle like vegetable.

I'll save the cute planters for another post. Get there and visit soon before it's too late.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fall Porch Makeover

It's that time of year. Fall is in the air. The leaves are just barely starting to color. Definitely time to primp your porch and update your seasonal display.

This pair of urns belongs to one of my clients. The summer plants had tired out, and a little more color was in order. Sam's Club had some of the healthiest, in full bud, lush mums I've seen. I snapped some up as the basis for the display.

These urns need some height to balance, especially in relation to the house. So a stop by Graf Growers netted me the spikes, and a few ivy plants, for a spilling balance. I picked up a few gourds at the farm market.

It looked good, but look how much better it looks after I went on a little foraging hunt in the neighborhood. Some tall grass heads, teasels, cat tails, and sumac heads really add a finishing touch plus add lushness to the containers.

The second urn before.

And After.

Some larger mums, ornamental cabbage, and assorted pumpkins balance out the front porch.

Bring on the cider, doughnuts, and trick-or-treaters.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fun Party: Grilled Pizza Buffet at Cottage Hill Farm

One of the most fun events I did this summer was a grilled pizza buffet at the charming Cottage Hill Farm in Ravenna. I've had the privilege of cooking at this spectacular estate before, indoors last time, in the only kitchen that has a meat hook on a pulley adjacent to the large kitchen (handy for unruly guests, perhaps, but thankfully there were none).

The original stone house was built in 1834 and has a rich history, including ownership by the Hanna family, and is being lovingly restored to it's original condition by Josie and Dale Adams. Dale Adams Enterprises does amazing historical automobile restoration, and examples including the pink cadillac, were on display, and guests were offered rides.

Even though it was sultry, 90 degree summer day, my gracious hosts took excellent care of me and set me up in the old barn, which had a fabulous cross breeze, plus they provided a huge fan, which helped keep the area cool when the grills were fired up. I probably had the coolest station on the grounds.

This was the view towards the house from my station. The beautiful quilts on the tables were courtesy of the Adams, and I carried the theme by putting some toppings in canning jars and icing them in tin containers.

I prepared a buffet of topping choices which included freshly grilled summer squash/zucchini, red onion, fresh tomatoes, banana peppers, olives, pesto, white bean and garlic hummus, red sauce, flavored olive oil, turkey pepperoni, various flavors of chicken sausage, roasted bell peppers, feta, mozzarella, and goat cheese.

Guests selected their toppings and I grilled to order using par-baked crusts from my friends at Frickaccio's Pizza Market at the West Side Market. They also have gluten-free, whole wheat, and organic crust options, plus they offer fresh pizza kits with cheese, sauce, and crust with instructions.

Beautiful vegetable garden right off the barn.

Part of the days festivities included hay rides around the property, and I was invited to join the last one of the day, along with the family German Shepherds, who weren't sure if it was the best mode of transportation.

The back of the barn - that's why there was a good breeze.

I had an admirer on the ride.

View towards the house and outbuildings. It's always a pleasure to work with the Adams and spend a little time at this historical farm. I am looking forward to seeing more progress on the restoration. And I really wished I had the summer kitchen when I was canning.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Fig Pickles

There must be something in the air. The perfect, high 70's to low 80's day time air, and pleasantly cool night that has dipped into the 40's, air. The not having to please anyone but myself this week air.

Perfect weather for cleaning out the poor, sad, tired tomato vines in the garden, tidying up the beds, and sleeping blissfully with the windows open, on clean sheets (only slightly marred by the 4:30 am and 5:30 am whistle happy train one night, and the aching muscles that my trainer thought he was whipping into compliance on Tuesday, that caused me to blow off the gym for the rest of the week.)

It started innocently enough. Make a few pickles, save a few summer tomatoes for the dark winter days. And the next thing you know, I am a canning fool.

As I am thumbing through the classic canning bible, The Ball Blue Book of Preserving, I spied a recipe for Fig Pickles. I am still dreaming of last weekend's Fig Gelato with Chinese Five Spice and watching Ms. Figgy attempt to ripen her couple of dozen figlets, but I know I must make Fig Pickles.

Graf Growers had pint baskets for $3.99, and lucky for me they had just picked up a new flat, and let me pick mine out of the those in the cooler.

The recipe gave options for peeling the figs, or not. And I definitely chose not. The only thing more frustrating then trying to peel 30 plus figs, well, I can't even imagine. So I poured boiling water on them and let them sit until cool, then poured off the water and continued.

The figs are simmered with some sugar and water for about a half an hour, then more sugar, vinegar, and a spice bag with whole allspice, cloves, and cinnamon sticks join the party. Recipe said simmer until transparent, which, umm, don't think so with the peel still on, so I let them go for awhile until they looked tender. Next step, cover and put in cool place for 12-24 hours. So I parked them in an open cooler with the last of the ice from shocking corn for the freezer. (Note: even with ice or ice packs, don't put a hot pan in a closed cooler and expect faster chilling. I tried this before with something and hours later, it was still hot....)

When you get around to it the next day, sterilize the jars, heat the lids, and reheat the figs and finish processing. I used the 'fancy' new Ball jars.

So there you have it, another summer day captured in a jar.

Pickled Figs on Foodista

Thursday, September 3, 2009

In a Pickle

I've been craving pickles (and no, I am not expecting) and it's the time of year to make your own. I've been having a little trouble locating Kirby cucumbers, so I decided to stop by Boughton Farm, conveniently located a couple of miles from my house. They hooked me up with a half peck (about 15#) of cukes.

I was also looking for beans to make Dilly Beans. Boughton Farms has pick your own crops - beans, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, and pumpkins. I collected my basket and off I went. The beans are starting to get a little full, so it took a little while to hunt for the most slender specimens, but it was a nice day and actually kind of relaxing. The easiest part of the day.

No dill at this farm, so I headed to another, off the beaten path, down a dirt road farm stand a few miles away, where two nice grandmother types went into the walk-in and fetched me the hugest stalk of canning dill I've ever seen.

A few spices - turmeric, mustard seed, celery seed, ground ginger, black peppercorns, some coarse salt and pickling salt, plus sugar and vinegar.

The 5+ pounds of beans I picked and the monster dill.

I decided to honor Shelia Lukins, of Silver Palate and Parade Magazine fame, who passed this week, and make her recipe for Bread-and-Butter Pickles and Dilly Beans from her U.S.A. Cookbook.

The pickles called for slicing 4 pounds of cukes, 2 pounds of onions (the mandolin made quick work of those), tossing with some salt, covering with ice cubes and waiting 2 hours. Which theoretically gives you plenty of time to round up the jars and supplies. Of course, I had no pint jars, so I headed to the grocery and picked up a couple of cases.

Washed the jars with hot, soapy water, then sterilized them in boiling water for ten minutes.

More cukes weighed out for today.

The canning kettle. Oh how nice to fire this monster up on a real stove. I think even if i turned on every burner on the electric stove it would take an hour to boil. Made canning so not fun.

Rinsing the salt off a couple of times while the jars sterilize.

Boiling the brine.

The jar lids get heated, not boiled, in hot water. The probe thermometer helps check the temp.

And voila - Bread-and-Butter Pickles. I love the sound of pinging the jars make when you take them out of the water bath and they vacuum seal.

And later, due to another trip to the store for pickling salt, the Dilly Beans. There is a little piece of the Ithaca Farmer's Market in those jars - some giant garlic I bought on my trip awhile back.

And there are a lot more cukes to process today.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hairy Balls Plant aka Gomphocarpus physocarpus

I happened by the Stan Hywet spring plant sale in May and couldn't resist buying a plant labeled 'Hairy Balls'. I'd seen huge specimens growing around one of the buildings the previous year, and it's one of those plants that just stops you in your tracks and makes you say "What is THAT?"

Plus it's pretty funny to see a bunch of adult women giggling and fighting over the last of the Hairy Balls (myself included).

Mine isn't quite as big as the ones at Stan Hywet, but it has finally produced a couple of the namesake seed pods. The flowers themselves are quite tiny and delicate.

The plant is a form of a milkweed which is a butterfly/caterpillar favorite for feeding. I've read that you can start them from seed, but I think Stan Hywet starts them from cuttings.

In any event, it's pretty and it's fun to watch it progress in the garden. And it makes me laugh.